Child Health and Development

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To reach their full potential, children need high-quality health care and services—especially in life’s early years. Health promotion, safety, disease prevention, and early identification and treatment during these earliest years lay the foundation for healthy development.

Mounting evidence that health during childhood sets the stage for adult health creates an important ethical, social, and economic imperative to ensure that all children are as healthy as they can be. Healthy children are more likely to become healthy adults. FPG's scientists study many aspects of child health and development—from prenatal health to infant brain development to stress management in adolescents.

Featured Publication

Young children who experience high levels of sociodemographic risk have been shown to experience lower levels of academic achievement. However, differences in the physiological processes of self-regulation in the face of challenges may account for variance in these outcomes. “Parasympathetic Response to Challenge in Infancy Moderates the Effects of Sociodemographic Risk on Academic Achievement at School Entry,” a study by Cathi Propper, PhD, found that this response to challenges moderated the effects of risk to the point that there was no association between risk and school readiness.

Featured Project

Chronic stress for children growing up in poverty may lead to lasting effects on social, behavioral, and cognitive development. The difficulties of living in economic hardship have been associated with deficits in cognitive and academic performance. This current study examines the link between poverty and executive functions (cognitive processes that facilitate learning, self-monitoring, and decision making) which are known to undergo rapid developmental change during the first years of life.

Featured Person

Cathi Propper, PhD, is an advanced research scientist at FPG and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the co-principal investigator and co-director of the Carolina Consortium on Human Development (NIH T32 training program) as well as the director of FPG's Developmental Biobehavioral Core, which provides access to state-of-the-art equipment and expertise in physiological and biological measurement.

Current Projects

The current study examines the link between poverty and executive functions (cognitive processes that facilitate learning, self-monitoring, and decision making) which are known to undergo rapid developmental change during the first years of life.
This project will develop an African-centered, culturally responsive practice guide with specific strategies, exemplars, and materials with connected professional learning modules to guide effective implementation. The ultimate and long-term goal is to increase Black children’s social, cognitive, and emotional skills (e.g., racial identity, engagement, learning motivation, regulation), leading to strong academic and social competence and school success.
This replication study seeks to demonstrate the effectiveness of Targeted Reading Instruction (TRI, formerly called Targeted Reading Intervention) in helping grade 1 struggling readers make substantial gains in reading during one school year. It extends prior TRI studies by conducting an independent external evaluation of the TRI, testing long-term impacts for struggling readers into grade 3, and examining teachers’ sustained impacts for three years.
The purpose of this project as part of the Equity Research Action Coalition is to identify strengths-based programs and policies that support the well-being of Black parents and their infants and toddlers during the pandemic.
This project will support a cohort of place-based, cross-sector educational collaboratives ("myFutureNC network") across the state to develop model programs that significantly increase the number of students successfully pursuing post-secondary education and entering the workforce. This pilot aligns with the state's goal of having 2 million individuals between the ages of 25 and 44 with a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree by 2030.
This project leverages and builds upon an existing longitudinal cohort to propose hypotheses that investigate the ways in which early life stress alters well-specified developmental processes to adversely affect neurodevelopment in childhood and increase risk for obesity and other health outcomes. It extends our prior data collection both retrospectively and prospectively in order to amplify and enhance our focus on adverse exposures and health and behavior outcomes.
The purpose of this project is to examine the relationship between implicit bias, teacher expectations, teacher–child interactions, and child outcomes. There are disparities in child discipline and development that can manifest early for poor and/or minority children and can have lasting consequences.
The Equity Research Action Coalition will co-construct with practitioners and policymakers actionable research to support the optimal development of Black children prenatally through childhood across the African diaspora using a cultural wealth framework. The coalition will focus on developing a science-based action framework to eradicate the impact of racism and poverty and all its consequences on the lives of Black children, families, and communities, and to ensure optimal health, well-being, school readiness and success, and overall excellence.
The goal of this project is to support the development of an interdisciplinary, multi-organizational research action coalition to identify anti-racist, culturally-sustaining, and asset-focused factors that ensure that Black children, their families, and communities thrive. Specific to this project is the development of a national repository/clearinghouse that provides up to date information on actionable research, practice, and policy evidence about what matters and works for Black children.
The purpose of this project is to conduct the year 1 evaluation of the ECIC Child Care Innovation Fund. Guided by a racial equity evaluation framework, the evaluation will determine how this fund influences policy changes to address racial disparities in wages and families' access to affordable, high-quality early care and education. This study will also examine facilitators and barriers to engaging in racial equity systems change.
The purpose of this project is to understand the early development trajectories in both poor and non-poor young children growing up in rural areas characterized by high poverty. An interdisciplinary team of investigators has been following children from birth with measurement of child, family, and school functioning, observed mother and father sensitivity and language input in the home setting, observed quality of instruction in child care and elementary school, characteristics of the community, and biomarkers of child and maternal stress.
We are examining psychiatric and health outcomes in a 5-year follow-up of 200 well-characterized, very high-risk, maltreated and non-maltreated children. This is an ideal study in which to examine patterns of stability and change in the regulation of stress-sensitive genes over time.
The JOIN for ME program is a pediatric weight management intervention that can be delivered in community settings, with potential for national dissemination. We will package the JOIN for ME program to increase acceptability and feasibility for delivery in low-income communities and test implementation in two novel settings: the housing authority and the patient-centered medical home. The revised JOIN for ME package will be tested in a rigorous implementation study.
Exposure to heavy metals in utero, such as arsenic, may have negative effects on health and neurodevelopment of offspring. In North Carolina, arsenic has been found in the drinking water, making this an important public health concern. This study will be the first to examine the way in which arsenic exposure may alter the microbiome of pregnant women and their offspring.
The Frank Porter Graham Program on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion for Families is a suite of programs related to self-compassion in families and schools. Our mission is to bring specialized self-compassion training to teens, pre-teens, children, parents, educators, and all adults who traverse the lives of youth, with the ultimate goal of creating a community embued with greater compassion for ourselves and others.
The RI-Asthma Integrated Response (RI-AIR) Asthma Care Implementation Program (ACIP) is a comprehensive system of identification, screening, and intervention for pediatric asthma. We aim to demonstrate that RI-AIR ACIP is a replicable, evidence-based, and cost-saving model that improves asthma outcomes for children at most risk, and can be disseminated to other urban communities to address asthma disparities.
The purpose of this project is to gather perspectives from current Parents As Teachers families and parent educators. This is a developmental evaluation to understand how Parents as Teachers (PAT) could address race-based trauma and stressors and support the positive racial identity formation for young children.
Given the importance of basic memory skills for success in school, it is essential that we understand the development of a range of component skills that (1) affect the acquisition of knowledge and strategy use, (2) emerge in the context of the classroom, (3) are transformed over time into the study skills that are needed for progress in school, and (4) are related to measures of academic achievement.
The current study will be the first to examine the influence of early toxic stress, including the distal effects of living in poverty as well as the proximal factors of negative parenting and household chaos, on the development of gut microbiome diversity and maturity across 15, 24, 26, and 54 months.
This project will use secondary data analysis of two longitudinal datasets to test if childcare provider language prospectively predicts child executive functions (EFs) directly or indirectly through child language. We will also examine if different ways of measuring preschool teacher language quality are differentially predictive of child language and subsequent EFs.